16 Jun 2020

Profession of Product Manager: 5 Questions for GSOM alumni-practitioners

Until recently, the profession of a product manager (PM) was not at all known in the business world, but today this position exists in most successful companies. At the same time, the responsibilities of individual employees may still vary depending on the company.


We talked with alumni of the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University (GSOM), who work as product manager and product marketing manager (PMM) to find out why such specialists are needed and what skills they should have.


What does a product manager do in the company?


Tatyana Tretyak, Bachelor 2013, Product Manager at the Booking Company:

The main task of the product manager is to improve the product for the end user.


In the early stages of creating a product, the main task is the search for product-market fit. It is the common ground between what users need to solve their problem and the product that the company is building. The product manager conducts market research and analyses user preferences, evaluates the prospects of various market segments, works on creating prototypes of the future product, thinks out future metrics for product success, and how the product will affect the company's existing product portfolio.


When a product-market fit is found, the product manager begins to monitor the state of the product: tracking metrics, conducting regular in-depth interviews with users, working on technical improvements to the product, testing new functionality for user value and building a long-term product development strategy.


Alexander Khazanov, Bachelor in Management 2016, Head of Product Development for International Clients of the company Deloitte Digital:

The main duty is not to be useless. In an ideal world, product managers are not needed, but the world, of course, is not ideal. The product manager must be able to support and protect any area of product creation. The list of responsibilities of a product manager depends on the state of affairs of other departments of the company – IT, analytics, design, finance, marketing, the involvement of the top manager or company owner in the product, the processes of interaction between them. The stronger the department, the less effort the product needs to ensure the desired result in a particular area.



What skills should a good product manager have?


Konstantin Valiotti, MCF 2017, Product Manager “Infobip”

1. Strategic skills: developing a general direction of movement, assessing  consequences and decisions, and the ability to decompose the problem into its components.

2. Communication skills. During my education at the University, this phrase sounded like a buzz-word to me, but over time it became obvious that a properly built communication allows managers and colleagues to feel happy, , to feel less stress and to progress much faster.


3. The Ability to cope with uncertainty. The Product manager should have the opportunity to help other people reduce the the level of uncertainty. The PM has to figure it all out and find the answers, both at the strategic level, answering what and why, and tactically outlining the scope for other team members.


4. Analytics and research: hypotheses, work with quantitative data on the product, the ability to conduct various types of interviews, the ability to synthesize information based on these data.


5. Curiosity is more likely not a skill, but a quality. It is important to be curious enough to be able to gradually immerse in the conversations of technical teams.


6. Empathy: it will be difficult for you if you cannot understand the life of your user. First, you need to learn to listen, to easily cope with silence, and to help a person feel comfortable. Secondly, you need to be able to put yourself in the context in which your client is located.


What is the difference between Product manager and  Product Marketing Manager?


Danil Popov, Senior Product Marketing Manager “Netologiya group”, Master in International Business 2013:

Since these professions are relatively new, the role and tasks of the product manager and product marketing manager may differ in different companies, depending on internal tasks, and on the stage of the product’s life cycle (creation, active growth, maturity). In addition, often they are generally combined into one function. The PM is responsible for product development, and the PMM is responsible for positioning and communicating value to the target audience.”


Product manager:


  • The "owner" of the product or part of the product, who ensures that the team provides the product that best meets the interests and tasks of users.
  • Customer voice in the product.
  • Explores and prioritizes feature development.
  • Deeply understands competitors' products and the technologies they use.
  • The specialist has the technical skills to communicate in the same language as the developers.


Product Marketing Manager:

  • is responsible for the marketing strategy for bringing the product to the market;
  • forms the positioning of the product and develops channels for promotion;
  • learns what marketing competitors are doing;
  • provides sales team with tools to close deals more efficiently.


In our company, the PMM coordinates a marketing team at the stage of packaging proposals and launching an advertising campaign. The PMM helps to identify customer pain, describes “jobs to be done” for proper communication etc, and is responsible for marketing metrics. Accordingly, the hard-skills of marketers are needed here, from copywriting and editing skills to understanding the principles of content distribution and the ability to work with analytics tools.


When does a company need a product marketing manager?


Alexandra Matveeva, MiM 2019, Product Marketing Manager VK

The PMM is needed when there are several products in the company, and there is a need for marketers who will be responsible for each of those products. Since different products within one company often have a completely different audience, price segment, form of communication with users and specifics, the separation of product marketing allows you to achieve better results, because PMMs are more immersed in and focused on a particular direction.


How to gain skills and experience to get product managers in a dream company? Konstantin Valiotti, MCF 2017, Product Manager “Infobip”: I would divide the question into two components:


1. How can you have a product position?

Make a pet project. It is a project that you do at home in your free time. The best way to gain skills and experience is to work as a product manager. Pet projects that you can do with friends are best suited for this. The main thing in the output is to have a story: how you quantitatively investigated the audience, how you created a product or validated a hypothesis, what result it led to and so on. By the way, your third-party project does not have to be from the IT field, the main thing is the key story of development and growth.


Get the closest professional experience possible. Internships, part-time and online jobs can help you if they are similar to the work of a product manager. Analytics, marketing, research, etc. are always partially overlapping with PM’s. Your task is to maximize the number of such intersections during work and add this experience to your resume and cover letter. Do not be afraid to ask your manager to do something that will be useful for you. And don't be afraid to suggest doing something that others ignore. For example, to conduct a specific research project.


2. What will help me become a successful product manager?

  • Books and courses.
  • Write projects for yourself. Go through the entire product manager work cycle on a new product. Turn it into a presentation.
  • Find a mentor among product managers. It is much easier to develop if you can ask this person specific questions.


Analyze successful products. What makes them successful? How do they work? What is important in them? Whom are they targeting? What are their success metrics?